Tackling criminal exploitation

Susan Thomson

Frontline workers, including in schools and the NHS, are being given new guidance to help prevent children and vulnerable adults from being drawn into organised crime.

The first document of its kind in Scotland, the ‘Practitioner Guidance on Criminal Exploitation’ stems from work commissioned last year by the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce. 

It aims to support a shared understanding of criminal exploitation and to help professionals identify those at risk from serious organised crime. This includes watching out for signs such as: individuals travelling to different areas or locations they would not usually visit; changes in peer groups; and individuals who may have been groomed by crime gangs appearing agitated and nervous about answering calls, or texts and going out.

The guidance will be made available to all front-line workers – including in social work, policing, the NHS, education settings and the third-sector – who come into regular contact with children and vulnerable adults.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said:

“Criminal exploitation of anyone, and particularly the vulnerable is truly abhorrent and can leave victims feeling trapped with nowhere to turn while experiencing violence, intimidation, and threats. This new guidance seeks to help end that cycle, giving people who work with children and vulnerable adults the confidence to act, enabling help to be more quickly delivered to those that need it.

“Scotland’s organised crime gangs are not confined to the big cities, and they seek to exploit people across the country, impacting everyone. Understanding this and how this despicable practice can finally be ended is crucial in supporting the strong partnerships we have created to tackle these illegal groups. We all pay the price for their callous disregard for the law. This guidance is an important step towards better helping victims of exploitation and stifling the organised criminals of the lifeblood they need to keep operating.”

Paul Carberry, Chair of Serious Organised Crime Taskforce Divert strand, said:

“This guidance will give professionals from across multiple agencies more comprehensive knowledge, understanding and develop a wider perspective about criminal exploitation.

“It is essential frontline public professionals, such as NHS, Social Work, and school staff, as well as Police Scotland, recognise the signs and have a shared knowledge of criminal exploitation. The work of the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce will help Scotland realise a vision where all individuals are free from criminal exploitation. This guidance will take us one step further in that aim.”


The Scottish Government and its partners on the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, including Police Scotland and the National Crime Agency, use every means at their disposal to dismantle Scotland’s 101 known organised crime gangs and reduce the harm caused to communities.

The new guidance, shaped by the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, sets out signs that could indicate an individual is being exploited, including:

  • Increased or unexplained material wealth.
  • Individuals travelling to different areas or locations that they would not usually visit.
  • Peer group changes and receiving increased numbers of texts and phone calls from unknown callers.
  • Individuals who may have been groomed by a crime gang appearing agitated and nervous about answering calls, or texts and going out.
  • Vulnerable people persistently going missing or returning late.
  • Leaving the house at odd times of day or night that is out with usual routine.
  • Substance misuse issues.
  • Increased offending with offences potentially linked to serious organised crime.
  • Owning more than one mobile phone.
  • Deterioration in mental health and possible self-harming.

More details here